Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
After spending days rattling world markets with talks of new trade tariffs against China, U.S. President Donald Trump sought to ease tensions Monday by revealing that Chinese officials had been on the phone and expressed a desire to restart trade talks.
There’s just one problem: the Chinese government has no idea what phone calls he’s talking about.
Trump made the claim during the final day of the G7 meeting of world leaders in Biarritz, France. China had called “our top people” on Sunday evening, he said, to “get back to the table” to resolve the year-long trade war.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin later repeated the claim that there had been contact between the two sides, but would not say which officials from each side had been in touch.
But later on Monday, and again on Tuesday morning, Chinese government officials said they had no record of any such call being made. “I have not heard of that,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said when asked about the call.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, the last high-level phone calls between Chinese and U.S. trade negotiators took place on August 13, between Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and Mnuchin.
Trump said China was seeking to end the trade war due to increasing economic pressure on Beijing and job losses in China.
“I’m not sure they have a choice,” Trump said when asked if he thought China wanted to make a deal with the U.S. “I don’t say that as a threat.”
Trump also cited a comment made by Liu, China’s top trade negotiator, at a technology conference on Monday as evidence of Beijing desire to make a deal.
What Liu actually said, however, did not indicate a clear willingness to capitulate to U.S. pressure.
“We are willing to resolve the issue through consultations and cooperation with a calm attitude and resolutely oppose the escalation of the trade war,” Liu said.
Geng reiterated Tuesday that the U.S. needs to resolve the conflict through dialogue, rather than punitive measures like tariffs.
“Regretfully the U.S. has announced its decision to add new tariffs on Chinese products. Such maximum pressure will hurt both sides and is not constructive at all,” Geng said.
Beijing also indicated Tuesday it was willing to follow through on threats to levy retaliatory tariffs of 5 to 10 percent on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods.
“China will do what it has said,” an editorial published in the state-run People’s Daily on Tuesday read. “Any attempts to force China to make concessions through extreme pressure will be in vain.”
This is just the latest twist in the 18-month trade war that has created huge uncertainty in global markets.
Last week the sides traded threats of tariff increases as Trump labeled Chinese President Xi Jinping an “enemy” of the U.S. By Monday Trump had changed his tune, calling Xi a “great leader” and predicting that China was ready to make a deal.
These wild swings saw markets drop significantly on Friday before rebounding slightly on Monday after Trump’s comments. China’s yuan, however, fell to an 11-year low against the dollar on Monday.
When asked about his confusing statements regarding China in recent days, Trump told reporters in Biarritz: “Sorry, it’s the way I negotiate.”
Cover: President Donald Trump listens to a question during a press conference on the third and final day of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)